WSPA makes global call to ban circus animals

Wild animals are not suitable for use in circuses, WSPA says, adding weight to the debate and political action currently occurring in Brazil and the United Kingdom.

Whereas Brazil appears to be moving from regional bans already in place towards a total ban on wild animals performing in circuses, the UK government has just faced a vote overwhelmingly in favour of taking such a decision.

“Large wild animals are particularly unsuited to life in a circus and, unavoidably, have their welfare compromised in such an unnatural setting,” said Victor Watkins Wildlife Advisor at WSPA. “We are encouraged by the proposed ban in Brazil and now urge its lawmakers to enshrine this important animal welfare measure into law. We also urge the UK government to listen to the public and fellow parliamentarians and make good its past commitment to prohibit animals in circuses.”  

In Brazil, a 2006 proposal to ban all animals in circuses has now finally moved to the country’s chamber of deputies where it is awaiting a vote. Large-scale surveys of the Brazilian public have shown anywhere between 82 and 96% of the population backing such a ban.

Petition applies further pressure

WSPA Brazil has been heavily involved in campaigning for prohibition, with a team based in the national congress, extensive lobbying of deputies and an online petition urging the enactment of the proposed legislation. So far, 13,000 WSPA supporters have signed the petition for a ban, which must pass both a congress and senate vote before being signed into law by the president.

As Brazil also enjoys significant power at the local level, nine of the country’s twenty-six states have already enacted a ban, as well as more than 50 cities.

In the UK, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government recently and unexpectedly stepped back from introducing a ban on wild animals in circuses. The previous government made a similar commitment five years ago during the passage of the country’s Animal Welfare act. Only last year, WSPA UK responded to a governmental public consultation on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, recommending a total ban.

UK government blocked ban

In April this year, officials from the environment ministry, DEFRA, had also hinted at a ban, and revealed that 94% of the British public was also in favour. However, at the end of May, the UK’s environment secretary announced that a ban would not be possible, due to a legal challenge to the only EU country currently with a ban in place, Austria.  Instead, a licencing system would be introduced.

WSPA UK disputes this reasoning: The only legal challenge against the Austrian ban was dismissed by the European Ombudsman a year ago. Therefore, WSPA UK has joined together with a coalition of animal charities, including partner RSPCA, which has run a ten year campaign against animals in circuses, urging the government to introduce a ban. To date, the online petition by UK newspaper The Independent has attracted more than UK 30,000 signatories.

Click here if you are a UK-based WSPA supporter and wish to see a ban on animals in circuses.

Despite a vote on 23 June forced by cross-party parliamentarians in favour of a ban which gained overwhelming support, the initiative does not automatically become law. What it does mean is that the government will be forced to readdress the issue given the strength of support for a total ban.

Star Leona Lewis supports ban

Leona brought her family dog Misty to the WSPA photo shoot

Leona brought her family dog Misty to the WSPA photo shoot


In a letter sent to her local parliamentarian, singer Leona Lewis, a WSPA supporter, said: “I know that many MPs agree with the vast majority of the public and would like to see an end to this practice.”
Besides Austria, the only other countries prohibiting wild animals in circuses are: Bolivia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Israel; Nicaragua and Singapore. Bulgaria has also announced a ban from 2015, while Greece has also moved towards implementing one. WSPA Netherlands has been campaigning for an end to animals in Dutch circuses for more than three years.

There are many reasons why WSPA is against the use of wild animals in circuses, including mistreatment, the inability of animals to express their natural behaviour and the stimulation of the illegal wildlife trade. In 2006, an extensive report was produced by the RSPCA, outlining the unsuitability of wild animals, especially larger species, for life in circuses. 

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